Monday, September 19, 2011

The Holy Steps

Sunday, May 29, 2011:

We thoroughly enjoyed our usual breakfast supplied by Caesar House this morning, and then we set out on a long, long walk to locate the Holy Steps. I had downloaded a Rome guidebook to my Nook and had been astonished to read about this special place to visit that is nowhere near the Vatican area. Many people have never even heard of it.

The reported history about the Holy Steps is that they are supposed to be the actual steps that Jesus walked to stand before Pontius Pilate. The twenty-eight steps are referred to under a variety of different names such as: the Holy Steps, the Holy Staircase and La Scala Sancta. The story is told that Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, had the steps brought over from Jerusalem in 334, and they are obviously considered to be most sacred.

In order to find the Holy Steps, we walked to the Coliseum, turned onto S. Giovanni Laterano, and continued in that direction until we saw a huge church. This church is the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. Directly across the street from the church was a building that was quite understated on the outside, but contained the revered set of steps on the inside. This building is a part of the old Lateran Palace. There was also a smaller church on the second floor, accessible by an unremarkable second set of stairs. This is a photo of the building that houses the Holy Steps.

Walking on these steps is prohibited. There is only one way to ascend them--on your knees. A sign indicates that silence is requested, as people are praying. There is also another sign that explains the complete history of the steps. Covered with wood to protect the actual white marble surface of the original steps beneath, one can still easily see those steps below the wood. One problem is that the knees protest as soon as you kneel on the first step. Actually, my bony knees were screaming. I suppose you could wear knee pads, but I believe that would defeat the purpose. Considering the sacrifice and agony that Jesus suffered for us, a little bit of knee pain for a short time is certainly tolerable!

What I found most challenging was maneuvering from one step to the next on my knees. These are not narrow steps, but I wisely positioned myself by the handrail so I could use it to awkwardly help pull myself to the next level. This will sound rather wimpy, but I was only able to travel two steps. I offered prayers, said a special one for Liz and spent a few minutes in reflection and in awe of being present on these sacred steps. I thought about the countless numbers of Christians who have made a pilgrimage to these very steps and asked Laura to take a photo with my camera. I wanted to always remember this moment. This was such a moving and spiritual event for me, I wanted to be able to recall every detail.

We ascended the second set of steps to the small sanctuary where Mass was being held in Italian. We sat in the back of the church for a few minutes, but we had no idea what was being said, and there wasn't a hint of air movement, so it became stifling. We decided to move along, but I was still in complete awe as we descended the regular stairs and saw people continuing to gather on their knees in prayer on the Holy Steps. This will be at the top of my list of most memorable experiences of my life!

Setting off to locate the nearest Metro station, we wanted to find our way back to some of the shops we had passed yesterday when we didn't have the time to explore them. We exited the Metro at Ottaviano and found that many of the stores are not open on Sunday--even in the afternoon. Craving pizza, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe, Il Ciociaro Ristorante, and then discovered that they didn't serve pizza until dinner time. Really????? I ordered a salad and thought it would be a good idea to offset it with some roasted potatoes. Laura and Marianne had ordered risotto and seafood, but the "seafood" turned out to be octopus, which they managed to transfer to the sides of their plates and avoid.

To our delight, we did eventually find a few open stores. In one clothing store, Sharon and I were looking at a particularly attractive top. The male store clerk was standing nearby, closely watching us. Sharon asked him, "What size is this?" He replied, "One size fits all." She frowned and said, "Oh. Do they seem a little small?" He said, "Yes. They for YOUNG girls!" Sharon responded, "Alrighty." She then promptly walked out of the store. When I caught up with her outside, we were talking about the store clerk's lack of tact during the exchange. We laughed when Sharon said, "He should have left it at 'they run a little small.'"

Returning via the Metro to our hotel for a little rest, Marianne and Laura ended up going back out for a walk and returned with new shoes. Heaven forbid that Sharon and I should miss out on seeing a great shoe store! We needed to check out all of the available choices. So off we went to locate the store, in which we did manage to leave a few Euro. You have to love these shoes!

Back at the hotel once again, I checked email and then we chose Le Tavernelle Roma for dinner. The spaghetti was delicious and huge in circumference. We weren't worried about the good food causing us to gain weight, as we have been walking many miles every single day. It's the ONLY way to truly absorb the culture. As a matter of fact, we have done so much walking--including many, many stairs--we feel as though we have new and protruding calf muscles. We are certain that the walking has more than offset the intake of calories, as not one of us is feeling that our clothing is snug.

The prevalence of so many stairs to climb in Rome has made us wonder how on earth the elderly folks or those with compromised knees could have made this journey and been able to see and do everything that we have enjoyed. Sharon's favorite sandals were almost a casualty of the constant walking, as one evening just as we approached our hotel, the strap on one of her sandals completely broke. She retrieved her little emergency sewing kit and performed an impressive leather repair. So far, so good.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Rome, and we are all beginning to admit that we miss our husbands. This has been a long stretch of time to be separated from them. Fred and I are accustomed to our independent lives for a few days at a time due to his travel for work, but we've never been apart for this length of time. We all wish that our guys were here in this amazing city with us. I don't know how Marianne's husband would feel about all of this, but Sharon, Laura and I know that unless there was a golf course involved, our husbands would be suffering from very short attention spans on this trip. With all of the shopping and sightseeing in which we have participated, they would be distressed due to serious withdrawal from their drivers and putters. Perhaps it is just as well that we are simply 4 women who love 2 travel!

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